BWW REVIEW: Science And Art Come Together in MADE TO MEASURE To Present A Thought Provoking Work On How Society Treats People Of Size
Tuesday 21st May 2019, 6:30pm, Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre
Art can make ideas easier to connect to and Alana Valentine's new work MADE TO MEASURE presents a balance of science and story to prompt the audience to consider their relationship with people living in larger bodies. Commissioned by the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney where Valentine was Writer in Residence in 2018, this work is somewhat unique in that it is informed not only by society and personal experiences gleaned from interviews but also science.
Fresh from her own play A PIECE OF ASH, the fabulous Megan Wilding takes on the central character of Ashleigh, a young woman of larger size looking for a wedding dress. Wilding ensures that the audience are on Ashleigh's side from the first moments as she shows us that Ashleigh is used to a world where strangers judge her due to her size before they even know who she is. She gains sympathy as it quickly becomes clear Ashleigh has built a defensive approach as an automatic response. When bridal couturier Monica (Tracy Mann) doesn't seem to be phased by Ashleigh's appearance, only concerned with if Ashleigh intends for her shape to change between the design phase and the big day, the young woman is somewhat stunned. It seems like a great match after a long list of rejection and judgement but Ashleigh is rightfully skeptical as the veneer slips as we learn that Monica isn't truly accepting of Ashleigh's size which compounds Ashleigh's own inner struggle with accepting her body and blocking out the negative voices, both internal and external that manifest themselves as a judgmental food delivery boy and a disbelief that her fiancé Bryce is really in love with her as she is (both presented by Sam O'Sullivan)
Valentine's note in the program indicates that whilst the characters are fictional, Ashleigh is an amalgam of stories from people living in larger bodies and Monica's bridal store experiences are drawn from Collezione Santina's Santina Porpiglia and other couturiers' anecdotes. Snippets of science facts, gathered from Valentine's colleagues at the Charles Perkins Centre, are woven into the story to present side of the discussion on size that is not often presented, hopefully prompting people to reconsider why they feel that they know everything about weight science and have the right to comment on someone else's body.
Designer Melanie Liertz creates a minimalistic yet luxury expression of Monica's store with sheer drapes, an oversized dressing room and an economic assortment of elegant furniture. The majority of the 90-minute play is presented with relatively casual clothes which prove to be the main indicator of the passage of time. Verity Hampson's lighting design helps shift the work from the real-world interactions to moments where Ashleigh is confronted by her inner demons. The gowns used for the production are provided by Collezione Santina and prove that a "pretty" and "delicate" in a "basically curvy kinda way" is totally achievable if the designer is as skilled as Porpiglia.
MADE TO MEASURE is important in the use of art to open conversations that society needs to have. It balances entertainment with education to give a personal edge to the often dry science. Importantly it presents a broader view of life in larger bodies as it reminds audiences that the traditional judgement that people should seek to be thinner for their health or that larger people should control their appetite isn't always the full story and that science cannot definitively prove that being thinner would prevent someone from chronic illness and that diet isnt the only factor affecting weight. This work provokes thought, challenging audiences to consider how they interact with people living in larger bodies whilst also, hopefully, providing some comfort to people like Ashleigh that the weight shaming in society is being discussed and hopefully this is a move to education and acceptance of people for who they are not what size they are.